Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Going Ga-Ga for Ganna in Roubaix

I am assuming the on the night before Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, someone on the Colpack team, who is obligated to reach blogs in the Internet-sphere for any mentions like any proper team should do, read my bit about how Colpack have been tearing up the Italian amateur scene and reported to the team over breakfast that an English-speaking person was giving the team high praise. This praise inspired the team to take the the cobbled with a vengeance. As the authority on Italian amateur cycling system in America, I am 100% certain this is how the situation played out.

A long-range breakaway filled with some powerful legs that make housewives quiver was the ultimate decider on a day that was plagued with the rain and general miserable weather that 2015 bestowed. Within 10 kilometers, the main breakaway got away with names such as Filippo Ganna (Colpack), Edward Planckaert (Lotto-Soudal U23), Hamish Schreurs (Klein Constantia), Piet Allegaert (EFC-Etixx) and Justin Oien (Axeon - Hagens Bermans), among others. With the peloton staying together fairly well, the breakaway was given a leash and then slowly but surely, the reins were tugged and the peloton began to make their way back again.

The race was more or less a waiting game for the action to happen and the climax was a slow build. Make that a very slow build. The vice was coming down on the breakaway until Carrefour de l'Arbe, when Jenthe Biermans (SEG Racing) and Jaap de Jong (Chambery CF) were able to make the jump to the breakaway, joining Peter Lederink (Rabobank Development) as the only other rider able to make the junction to the breakaway from behind. Not to mention, this was when the rain was at some of its heaviest with the gutters on the pavé roads flooded with rain. Sivakov, who might have been more at home on a hillier course, was victim to one of many crashes the race saw and was jettisoned out of the breakaway.

Out of the beast of l'Arbe, the breakaway riders were trading probing attacks before it was Ganna who laid down the gauntlet. Ganna attacked and with the time trial abilities that gained him a contract with Lampre for 2017, he pulled away from an indecisive chasing group. My thoughts go to what was passing through Ganna's mind while he rode down the famous streets into the Roubaix velodrome. Was his mind a blank slate of pain as the lactic acid filtered through his body? Or perhaps memories flashed through his mind, especially as he was able to let off the accelerator into the finish? His first rides on a bike, his first rides around his home Lake Maggiore, his big time trial victories...all of that leading up to his biggest win on the road, hundreds of miles away from his homeland. All alone, it was an emotional Filippo Ganna that took the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs.

49 seconds behind, it was Jenthe Biermans taking his 2nd consecutive sprint for 2nd place in Roubaix ahead of Carpathian Couriers Tour winner Hamish Schreurs and Ganna's teammate Oliviera Troia. Biermans might have been very cunning with his move up to the breakaway but he had no answer for Ganna's move. Biermans appears to be a Roubaix specialist in the making, which is a bit of a dying breed with how so many riders seem to be diversifying their portfolios recently.

Paris-Roubaix Espoirs : la victoire de Filippo... by directvelo

-Ganna's win here will definitely get the hearts of Italian fans pumping as they have been crying out for a young potential classics star as it has been years since Ballan and Pozzato have been competitive in Northern France. No Italian has ever won this race unless you count quasi-Italian Yaroslav Popovych dominated with his Vellutex team piloted by Oliviano Locatelli. For Colpack, it is just another huge win on their way to a monumental season that they have been cobbling together. For those keeping score at home, some other recent solo wins at Roubaix belong to riders such as Mike Teunissen and Bob Jungels

-The Belgians should just claim this region because the French really do not turn out for this event. Partially, this comes down to scheduling issue as the Tour de la Manche and the Tour du Gironde take place during the same time, which can take precedence for amateur teams. It isn't like the French teams didn't show up as Vendée U was there along with Chambery and a smattering of smaller regional teams but there were just 2 French riders in the top 20 and the highest being in 17th with Damien Touze. You want to have French riders compete on a higher level on the cobbled/classic races? Put more emphasis on them in the U23 ranks. Corentin Ermenault was hurt and Dylan Kowalski was in the breakaway but was this seriously the best that France could put forth?

-Some other riders capping off impressive and very consistent springs? Edward Planckaert (Lotto-Soudal), who has gotten close in the sprints just like his brother Baptiste, showed that he is keen in the classics as he nabbed his 13th top 10 of the season. Ivan Garcia Cortina (Klein Constantia) showed some back bone by taking a small sprint for 10th (thanks to BMC's Bas Tietema for setting me straight there!) behind the chasing group, which was another nice performance for his team along with Schreurs 3rd place, which have been vying to be the best in the U23 peloton, and himself, as he was 8th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, 4th in the Istrian Spring Trophy and most recently, 11th in the Paris-Arras Tour. While this is certainly just the U23 ranks and the extra 80km of distance can really change things, Garcia has been doing things that a Spaniard hasn't done on the cobbles since Flecha.

-Disappointments on the day: BMC Development, Chambery and Vendée U missed the main breakaway at the finish. All had riders in the breakaway at some point but lady luck made sure to deal out some crashes and flats to take them out of meaningful contention.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Weekend Roundup: Colpack; Pan-Ams; Remi Cavagna

I need to stop making any decisions about the Colpack/Zalf-Euromobil-Fior rivalry because I am always wrong. Earlier this year, I said that because I falsely predicted Colpack to usurp Zalf in 2015 that I would be sticking with Zalf for 2016 in the eternal battle for Italian amateur supremacy. Except that this year, Colpack has been clicking on all cylinders and even without Simone Consonni on his best, they have 19 wins already this season with Riccardo Minali taking 6 of them and a big chunk of the Italian calendar still to come.

Colpack did their best impression of Zalf from recent years by taking a full podium at Castelfidardo while Simone Bettinelli led home a "doppietta" in the Trofeo Montelupo.

Castelfidardo was a slaughter by any stretch of the word as Minali won by approximately 5 bike lengths on his teammate over Francesco Lamon and Filippo Ganna. 

Castelfidardo was a slaughter by any stretch of the word as Minali won by approximately 5 bike lengths on his teammate over Francesco Lamon and Filippo Ganna.

In Montelupo, Bettinelli took an uphill sprint with teammate Oliveira Troia trailing in his wake.

While Zalf has won 10 races and Marco Maronese has continued to be quite a strong sprinter, it seems the tables have turned this year in favor of the white & black.

Pan Ams

In the U23 races that was devoid of any riders from the northern territories, Jose Luis Rodriguez (Chile) dominated the competition by taking wins in the Road Race and TT. Rodriguez was top 20 in the U23 World TT in Richmond and won handily here by nearly 1 minute on Colombian U23 TT champ Carlo Mario Ramirez and Colombian John Rodriguez. 

Similar to the Worlds course from '77, JLR went solo on the San Cristobal course and was able to escape from a small group including Jhonathan Narvaez and Caio Godoy. JLR won solo by 17 seconds on the chasers to cement his place for Chile in the World Championships in Doha, where he could be an outside top 10 shot. Rodriguez is apart of the World Cycling Centre in Aigle and will be seen this summer in Europe, probably culminating in a Tour de l'Avenir spot.

Paris-Arras Tour

While Klein Constantia is having a great year, there standout rider has been powerful rouleur Remi Cavagna, who has been using his time trialing skills to make growing boys cry and curse their feeble legs while they battle in an unknown gutter in central France. Cavagna's most recent win came at the Paris-Arras Tour, where he broke away on the final stage to take an impressive solo win on an otherwise flat course.

I thought it was a travesty that Cavagna wasn't elected to the French selection last year for the Richmond's Worlds, especially after he won the French U23 TT Championship. This year, Cavagna has taken similar wins this year with strong solo moves in the Volta ao Alentejo and Circuit des Ardennes.

If we are looking at one of the favorites for the U23 Worlds TT this year, look no further.

The Paris-Arras Tour? I could take it or leave it. I like that sprinters get there chance but if it wasn't for Cavagna, we would have probably seen Espoirs Central favorite Aidis Kruopis take three straight stage wins along with the overall. These races are so much harder than what meets the results page though as many were shot out the back without any remorse. So while it was a bit of a sprint fest, it is a good test for many young riders. If only the UCI would create a better U23 calendar that was more focused on actual development and add some much-needed competition between development teams. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ronde de l'Isard Roundup: Lambrecht soaks in victory

While it came down to the line, Bjorg Lambrecht was soaking in his Ronde de l'Isard overall victory in all ready on the up and down course of the final stage, which was a miserable affair filled with torrential rain, crashes and abandons. Even a deviation at 300 meters to go didn't set back set back Lambrecht on his way to a surprising victory.

The overall victory was not secured at the top of the final climb, the Col de la Core, when Lambrecht was off the back and reeling thanks to an attack by Leo Vincent, who was given the blessing from his DS Pierre-Yves Chatelon to spice it up. Spice it up he did and the first year U23 from Lotto-Soudal was on the verge of losing what had been up to that point an absolute stunner. Lambrecht was able to compose himself on the descent and even though he said pre-stage that he was nervous about wet descents, the young rider put in the descent of his riding career and clawed his way back to the front group, even attacking shortly afterward with 2nd overall Mathias Le Turnier.

Scott Davies survived the climb without being dropped too far and was able to come back on the descent. With the lead group looking around, Davies used his time trialling abilities that saw him go 2nd in the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux and moved away from the leading group, distancing Aldemar Reyes and motoring into Saint-Girons with a huge gap. Davies took his first win on the continent and announced himself to those that might have been deaf for the past two years.

Only 8 riders survived in the lead group with Steff Cras being the main GC rival that missed out on the party after crashing.
The surprise in this group? Sergio Higuita of Manzana-Postobon, who is another first year U23 rider.

Lambrecht held onto the yellow jersey by a mere 8 seconds over Le Turnier, who gave his Oceane Top 16 team an incredible result as they have been leaning heavily on Yoann Paillot
and Clement Saint-Martin. Leo Vincent eschewed searching for stage victories and showed that he is a potential GC candidate for the future by finishing 3rd overall. James Knox took his promise he showed with Zappi's and gave the most consistent race for Wiggins ahead of Davies and Dan Pearson.

Is Lambrecht the next Belgian climbing sensation?

Bjorg Lambrecht certainly blew everyone away by holding onto the overall win here in l'Isard but does that necessarily mean he is the next U23 general classification star? No. Not at all. Really, this is a great result but don't get ahead of yourself. l'Isard is not Aosta. While there are mountains, this type of course calls to a rider that feels comfortable in mountains as opposed to a pure climber that scaled 5 to 6 cols in a day. Remember, Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier, who by no means is a climber, stole this from Sergey Chernetskiy in 2012. I do not want to see anyone touting him as the next big thing when he needs some more races under his belt.

He does look like a little baby on the podium though, no? Even if he isn't the next Belgian answer in the mountains, he could fit the part for a movie if needed.

Lotto-Soudal U23 Super Team?

They brought in a very young team to l'Isard and boy, did they deliver. Lotto-Soudal U23 literally won every jersey on offer including the team competition. If it wasn't for Cras's crash on the final stage, we possibly could have seen two Lotto riders on the final podium.


Hernan Aguirre? The Wrath of God needs to keep improving to show that 9th overall from the Vuelta a Colombia last year. Hopefully there is a progressive build to the Tour de l'Avenir this year.

Lucas Papillon doesn't get many chances to shine on the big stage so he must be kicking himself for his slow start before he got his crap together and managed 11th overall, which was a big dip from 5th last year.

While Carboni finished better than last year and still had a good placing with 6th, he didn't capitalize on the momentum he had from bigger races such as the Tour of Turkey (13th overall) and the Tour de Azerbaijan (6th), which are both legitimate professional races. Hopefully he can go for jugular in Valle d'Aosta and some other races because otherwise, he is just another rider that is in that eternal wasteland from 6th-15th overall.

Elie Gesbert: future Tour de France stage winner

While Leo Vincent looked rock solid and France's next potential Tour de l'Avenir podium contender, Elie Gesbert won yet another stage in a big race to cement his status as a future stage hunter and is one of my favorite young riders that looks to take over the helm of the eternal French attackers in the Tour whose sole purpose on this earth is to attack the living hell out of the peloton and search for that perfect breakaway that comes only a few times in a Tour that allows for a true breakaway win. Pierrick Fedrigo needs a replacement. Gesbert has now taken stage in both l'Isard and in the Tour de l'Avenir as well as high placings in hard races such as the Tour de Bretagne (4th overall) and the Kreiz Breizh Elites (2nd). He is definitely ready for his transition to Fortuneo-Vital Concept.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Lambrecht takes surprise opening win in l'Isard

The opening stage of the Ronde de l'Isard kicked off on Thursday with a bit of a surprise winner after Lotto-Soudal U23 totally manhandled the peloton and put three riders in the top five.

Lambrecht takes the opening win ahead of Gaudu and Cras at Goulier Neige
(photo: La Depeche)
So as to not just make a translation of the Directvelo live feed, Espoirs Central will pull some more succinct points from this stage.

-Lambrecht was a bit of an oversight on my part as he proved his worth as a junior last year by winning the Belgian Junior RR Championship as well as finishing 2nd overall in the Junior Tour of Austria. He even surprised himself as he didn't expect to keep up with the best climbers but he obviously can climb and he has a kick at the finish that none of the other purer climbers could match. Will he be able to hold this lead? Time will tell but Lotto have multiple weapons at their disposal.

-If David Gaudu would have not attacked a few times on the finale, he might have been able to save his wad and use it at the end to win the stage instead of coming in 2nd to the much faster Lambrecht. It was quite a display of power from the Frenchman, who was 4th on this stage last year but was in much better position to win this year. With a shot at GC still, he will be interesting to see on Ax-3 Domaines.

-Mathias Le Turnier in 4th looks interesting. He rides for the smaller Oceane Top 16 but he was 6th in two stage in Pays de Savoie last year and could ride himself into a top 10 overall spot by Sunday.

- There was a very large group that came to the line together and there are still probably 13 riders that have a legitimate shot at taking the GC crown here. I don't think that anyone from Giovanni Carboni (46" down) and lower will be able to pull back that amount of time against those ahead of them.

-Disappointments on the day include Lucas Papillon (only slightly), Hernan Aguirre, no Portuguese breakout, Simone Ravanelli and Freddy Ovett.

Stage 2 is really a 100 kilometer warm up for 54 kilometers of uphill that takes in the long but steady, at least until the end, Col de Chioula followed by the summit at Ax 3 Domaines, which was first used in the Tour in 2001. That final climb is steep and hits points of 10% while the average is over 8%.

Prediction: I'm sensing that a Colombian will be winning ahead of a Frenchman and a Belgian. If I must go with names, we will do Reyes over Paret-Peintre and Cras.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ronde de l'Isard 2016 Preview

My favorite race of the year is back again. I have been so out of sorts this year that this race came out of nowhere and I realize as I am typing this that the riders are mere hours away from waking up to the first stage.

The region of Ariege itself is like something out of my dreams. Remote with a mixture of lush farm fields, foothills and proper mountains, the Ariege is one of the gems of France. If I ever get the chance to actually retire and the world is still somewhat in order, I would love nothing more than finding a small mountain hamlet, getting a small cottage and living out my days.

But I digress...

The 39th Ronde de l'Isard begins out of the small village of Lorp-Sentaraille with the presence of French cycling royalty, Raymond Poulidor. Poulidor, who was at the race in 2014 pedaling a book, is back this year without anything to pedal and is following along with the race. The village itself is more recently known for making jams. The stage goes here and there on a mainly flat course until it reaches the village of Tarascon and then very uphill at Vicdessos until they reach the ski station of Goulier-Neige.

This stage finish has featured prominently in the past few editions of the race and have really defined the race in terms of a general classification as it is quite a steep finish. The riders that are serious for the general classification will need to be on point at the beginning.

The race then moves onto a nice little punch with another quiet start from Roques sur Garonne to a summit finish at Ax 3 Domaines. The finish is actually a two-banger including the Col du Chioula followed by a sharp descent and up to Ax 3.

Saturday's stage is a classic transitional stage to Boulogne-sur-Gesse which has been used in recent years and should result in a small breakaway to the line.

The final stage sees the race take on another two climbs that are big, bold and ready to shred the pack. Coming up the side that has seen the Tour de France descend, the race will go up the Col du Portet d'Aspet and past the Memorial Fabio Casartelli. Once past the summit, the race goes up the Col de la Core, which has been featured many times in the Tour as while being quite long, it has a pretty nasty little finish with over 7% average gradient on the final 5 kilometer. The finish of the stage, and the race, is looking a bit...anti-climactic? A breakaway could survive but it is a steep downhill of 15 kilometers followed by 10 kilometers of flat before a finish into Saint-Girons. The finish here has never really decided GC, at least in its current iteration since 2013, so a breakaway will most likely rule while GC should be status quo.

The riders for l'Isard can be found here on Directvelo and there is a field studded with some future GC talent. Interesting note: out of the top 12 riders from last year's GC, there is only 1 rider, Loic Bouchereau, that hasn't turned professional or isn't back for more in l'Isard.

My favorites include...

Unieuro-Wilier won this race last year with Simone Petilli and bring Giovanni Carboni (who finished the Tour de Azerbaijan in 6th overall), Simone Ravanelli (7th in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta last year) and Marco Tecchio (9th overall here last year & 3rd in the Trofeo Piva this year).

Lotto-Belisol U23 bring the climbing powers of Steff&Steff (Cras and Hermans)

Wiggins is led by Dan Pearson, who is with a shout of winning after finishing 5th in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta last year with Zalf-Euromobil and finishing 12th in the Tour of Croatia this year, and Scott Davies, who was 9th in Croatia and 6th in Triptyque Monts et Chateux but recently DNFed the Tour de Yorkshire.

Manzana-Postobon bring a devilish little climber Hernan "The Wrath of God" Aguirre, who at just 19 years old finished 9th overall in the Vuelta a Colombia.

CR4C Roanne bring last year's 5th place Lucas Papillon, who seems to be riding in the cut a bit this year and could once again come out in the mountains.

Aurelien Paret-Peintre is still looking for that standout performance after a huge junior career. He was 6th here last year and if he plays his cards right, he could bring Chambery CF a podium.

A large Spanish contingent is led by Alvaro Cuadros (Fundacion Contador) and Xabier San Sebastian (Fundacion Euskadi) but a lot of the riders are young, green and in need of some racing miles. This will help.

Nikolay Cherkasov & Stepan Kurianov are getting a test in the mountains as the Russians are trying to send more boys in the mountains to fill all of the vacancies from recent graduates.

I don't think there is a GC favorite on the French national team however there are two riders that arre big stage win favorites in Elie Gesbert (Tour de l'Avenir stage winner from last year) and Leo Vincent, who has a knack of winning final stages including in last year's Ronde de l'Isard.

GB Espoirs look to be more suited for Flanders than the mountains; Portugal has talent but will it come out here?; Japan...well they should be happy to finish.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Oh Canada? Two Years Later

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article discussing four Canadian hopefuls that were looking to make it big in professional cycling. I opened that article by saying that "Canada is past their best days for the time being on the U23 front" but that a few guys were keen to step up. Those best days were right around the corner as 2015 was an explosive year for Canada on the development front. While they might not have young rider that is ready to take on the GC of big professional races, they are certainly brining more to the table than they did a decade ago.

From that original article, the four riders I highlighted were Ben Perry, Nigel Ellsay, Alex Cataford and Hendrik Pineda. Pineda, who was Canadian junior champion in 2013, has all but disappeared from cycling but the other three have to migrated to Silber Pro Cycling, the Canadian team headed up by Canadian sprint master Gord Fraser & Scott McFarlane and features a roster with only one rider born in the 80s, Ryan Roth. Silber has been attacking the early season American calendar with some big successes in the early half of this season.

In the season's infancy, Ryan Roth won the Valley of the Sun stage race while Cataford, who was drinking through a straw two years ago after shattering his jaw, won the time trial in the Tucson Bicycle Classic. Just over a month later, Ottawa native Matteo Dal-Cin blossomed and won the overall at Redlands after riding consistently throughout the race and taking bonuses & splitting the leading group when needed. Then it was Ellsay who was in the leader's position by going 2nd overall in Joe Martin after a blistering start at the uphill Devil's Den TT with Perry, who won a stage of Beauce last year, being his right hand and also finishing 10th overall. Cataford just sealed their early season with taking a huge 2nd place overall in the Tour of the Gila by riding at his limit in the mountains and then taking time back in the time trial, his broken jaw and recovery finally being able to take a back seat. Through in Kris Dahl for the sprints and you have yourself a pretty damn rounded team.

There is more to this than just Silber though (even if they did get an invite to the Tour of Utah at the time of writing). While Fraser and his crew having been ripping it up, let's broaden the focus a little bit.

Adam De Vos is out of the U23 ranks now but has taken a step up with Rally Cycling, which has been getting some fat invites in Europe and races all of the biggest American races. De Vos was a top 10 finisher in the difficult Richmond Worlds U23 RR to go along with a top 10 in the Tour of the Gila and Pan-Am Games. This year, he started out a bit slower but came around again to support team leader Rob Britton in Gila with Britton finishing 3rd overall and De Vos top 20 overall. De Vos is down for Tour of California with Rally, most likely in a support role. Read more about De Vos from last year on Espoirs Central

Sean Mackinnon & Adam Jamieson were the U23 half of the Canadian team pursuit team that has been getting more attention after lying dormant for many years. Mackinnon was top 20 in the U23 TT in the Richmond Worlds after going out very early in the day and missing out on some of the bad weather later on. This duo was apart of the team that clocked a 4:05 at Worlds, which isn't rivaling the British and Australians but it is fucking quick.  Riding for Team RaceClean, which is an arm of the Canadian National Team, the duo went 1& 2 in the Fleche du Sud youth classification with Mackinnion finishing 10th overall, which was on the same time as the rider in 6th place.

Alexander Cowan, also on RaceClean, nabbed 6th overall in the sprint at the Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn-Frankfurt U23

De Vos' former team H&R Block now have Jack Burke, who is in his first year on a bigger race schedule and doing fairly well with some good GC results with 6th in San Dimas, 13th in Redlands and 21st in Tour of the Gila, which was 4th in the youth classification. Burke's name might be recognized by some after he had a positive test as a junior in the Tour de l'Abitibi while in the running for the overall win. It turned out to be a tainted supplement, with his father and lawyer arguing that the trace amounts came from the water in Malartic, which has a working gold mine. The full story can be seen here.

For a country that had a dearth of riders touching the European pro ranks a decade ago, we are in the midst of a bloom with developing Canadian riders. Who knows, maybe another two years from now, we would be looking at a few of these guys moving up to join Svein Tuft, Antoine Duchesne, Ryan Anderson, Hugo Houle and Mike Woods in the European professional ranks.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Carpathian Couriers Tour

With the news of Gijs Verdick (Jo Piels) double myocardial infarction casting a pall over the race, it would be acceptable to not even know that the Carpathian Couriers Tour finished up today. After winning the opening prologue, Kiwi Hamish Schreurs went onto control the rest of the race and continued the early season dominance of Klein Constantia, the feeder team for Etixx-Quick Step.

This is a race that can be somewhat sparsely attended by big teams due to its location. You won't see BMC Development or Axeon head to Central Europe nor will many of the bigger national teams go here as they save their pennies for the U23 Peace Race. This is a race that gets a lot of names that might scoot under the radar of many. In 2010, a seldom known Rafal Majka won an uphill time trial in the inagural edition of the race. 2014 saw Romanian Eduard Grosu blossom and take the final two stages, which was the first step onto his road to a budding pro career. For a fairly new race, it is one that should have scouts looking for that talent that might slip through the cracks.

The prologue took place in the medieval Hungarian city of Veszprem, which lies to the west of Budapest and just north of the largest lake in Central Europe, Lake Balaton. Schreurs won a tight prologue against a decent field of riders to take the inagural jersey.

I remember watching the European Championships last year on a flat course in Tartu and was a bit confused the tactics of the Belgian riders, who had two out of four riders but continued to have both ride on the front very hard. Pole Alan Banaszek took advantage of this and in a head-shaking sprint that would put John Degenkolb to shame, Banaszek took the Junior Men's European Championship.
On stage one into Papa, Hungary, Banaszek did something to a similar effect and took out a mass sprint win against 2015 stage winner Alexander Wachter (Austria) and fellow first year U23 Jonas Castrique (Belgium).

Following the spine of the Carpathian Mountains, the race transitioned to Slovakia for a few hills. In a day in time where analytics in sports is seemingly everywhere, it seems a bit strange that riders are still being brought to the pro ranks so young. While we see teenagers in basketball that could probably transition directly to the NBA, cycling requires progression for riders. Even Greg Lemond or Eddy Merckx came out of the junior ranks and win on the highest level against the best riders. So why in the hell do teams still take riders that are not the next heir apparent with just one or no U23 season(s) behind them? There will always be the rare exception but other than perhaps giving them a UCI minimum contract, why did CCC sign Michal Paluta last year? He didn't do anything profound in his first U23 season yet he joined the Pro Continental team and rode 5 .1 or higher races the entire season, finishing 3 of them. He did win the Polish U23 RR and finished top 20 in the U23 Worlds RR but couldn't he have done this on a continental team? CCC could have saved their coin and went after Mustafa Sayar or some other unrepentant doper. This year, Paluta started both the professional Ronde van Vlaanderen and the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 but was unable to finish either of them. Are they trying to turn Paluta into a packing peanut that just falls by the wayside anytime a race is unpacked for the public? This isn't an indictment of Paluta's talents more so than the incomprehensible minds that drive the shambolic system that is professional cycling.

Despite that lengthy rant, Paluta won stage two in a sprint finish ahead of LKT Brandenburg duo of Leon Rohde and first year U23 Max Kanter with Schreurs coming in safely in 4th.

The penultimate stage entered Poland. In yet another display of force, Schreurs made the selection and won the sprint ahead of Kanter and Latvian Krists Neilands, who has been on an incredible tear include top 10 finishes in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23. Paluta lost the race lead by missing the split and the time bonus Schreurs got for finishing 1st.

The last stage was probably going to be the most selective of the race yet for a race named after a fairly big mountain range, I would expect a parcours to match instead of it all coming down to a final stage. Jo Piels abandoned the race due to the tragic situation with Verdick while Team Wiggins, who had KOM leader James Knox, also left. The stage was still put on but did not count towards the classification so all of the major riders came home in a group nearly 19 minutes down.
Since originally writing this at 2 a.m., I need to make an amendment. The leading group had whittled down to about 35 riders including all of the favorites however, they were misdirected down the wrong road and thusly, the chasing group ended up as the "lead" group, which saw quite a surprise win with the unheard of Ken-Levi Eikeland from, who went on a flyer and stuck it for his first ever win and what could be his only ever UCI win.

Hamish Schreuers and Klein Constantia capped off a strong week with the overall win and 6th overall with Enric Mas along with the point classification. Paluta held onto 2nd overall while Kanter grabbed 3rd ahead of Patrick Bosman by taking some bonus seconds on the final stage.

The race, while somewhat cut short, needs something that will set it apart. It has a wonderful location but why not try to get off the main roads and find some nice, brutal stretch of climbs that will make young men wimper and contemplate if a triple chain set could be added mid-race.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Hello all

I'm back. For now.

This past weekend featured Adrien Costa winning the Tour de Bretagne Cycliste. There has been much written on this so I will not be a broken record however it should be noted that along with this being the first American win in the event, Costa is the youngest ever winner of the now 50-year old event. Not even 19-years old, Costa won a storied race that is not a race that really even suits his natural talents. Yet an instinctive ability to attack saw Costa take the race by the scruff of the neck on stage 4 and never give up the lead. This race was one of the target races for the Eastern Bloc through the 70s and 80s and through recent years, has showcased many riders that have hovered in those awkward years right after the U23 ranks.

The most exciting thing about Costa's spring? It is only now May. Top 10 finishes across Belgium, Netherlands and France on terrain that while difficult, is not the hills and mountains that Costa tore up as a junior. The mountains are calling Costa this summer and everyone that was excited after Bretagne should be brimming for what is to come.

Outside of Bretagne, there was a lot going on so hold on to your casquettes...

-Filippo Ganna won the GP Sogepu time trial in Citta' Di Castello in Umbria with an decisive victory over the 26 kilometer course with an astonishing overall speed of 52.6 kilometers per hour. For scale, he beat out Edoardo Affini, 3rd place in the Italian U23 TT last year, by 1'27". Ganna was on a flyer. It isn't the first time Ganna has beaten Affini in a TT either. Ganna won a national championship as a 16 year old (so, Novice level or whatever it is in Italy) by beating Affini 30 seconds.

-Every year there seems to be a new Italian sprint champion and this year is no different. Once again, we have a run between Zalf-Euromobil and Colpack. Zalf brings Christmas-born Marco Maronese while Colpack has the duo of Riccardo Minali and Simone Consonni, who is still coming back from a big winter on the track.

This past weekend, Maronese went two for two. First, it was the Memorial Carlo Valentini in Camponogara, where he went 1-2 with teammate Marco Gaggia. While the competition wasn't on the highest level, it was still a good win.

Maronese in the middle in the red. Very easy to see how his low profile gets him advantage. Reminiscent of Jakub Mareczko
On Sunday, Maronese came head to head with Minali and Consonni at the Circuito del Porto, a classic flat race in Cremona that brings out all of the sprinters in Italy. A breakaway ruled most of the day and Mikhel Raim (Estonia/Cycling Academy) was the last one out on his own but was picked up on the final straightaway. In the end...well, I think the podium picture says it all.

Maronese flanked by Minali (l) and Consonni (l). Apparently, they did not get the #capsnothats memo.
Colpack did get a little revenge with Ukranian Mark Padun taking a solo win in the Coppa Penna.

-In Germany, the Eschborn-Frankfurt U23 had a bit of a surprise winner. Konrad Geißner has never won a UCI race. He never has really been in contention outside of the amateur German ranks. In a race that hasn't come down to a massive bunch sprint in any of the recent editions, a group of around 50 came to the line together and it was Geißner that found himself on the wheel of Joshua Huppertz (Kuota-Lotto), who launched his sprint with 200 meters to go. Huppertz launched into the wind a little bit too early and it was Geißner who came out to take the win ahead of the Etixx-EFC duo of Benjamin Declercq & Christophe Noppe. I'm unsure if Geißner will continue to compete competitively on a high level seeing as he runs for a tiny team from Thuringia and there are a dearth of big German races.

-Nathan Van Hooydonck (BMC Development) won the Belgian U23 TT in dominating fashion by producing 430 watts to beat Martin Palm by 43 seconds. 17th in the U23 Worlds TT, Van Hooydonck will look to improve upon that this year in Doha.

-The trio of one-day races across Denmark happened this past weekend. One interesting tidbit from that was the 7th place rider in the Himmerland Rundt, Torkil Veyhe. See, Veyhe is from the Faroe Islands, the islands that are a couple of hundred miles north of the top of Scotland and smack dab in the middle of the North Atlantic. Veyhe, who is technically Danish, won the ITT at the NatWest Island Games last year and 3rd in RR, won by Mikhel Raim. I wish Veyhe luck in his cycling pursuits.

I would write more about the Carpathian Couriers Tour and other things but that can be saved for another time. Have any requests for things? I know it has been a while so let me know.